Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 40

"I'll do anything you like," she said to her husband on one of
the last days of the month, "if our being here, this way at this
time, seems to you too absurd, or too uncomfortable, or too
impossible. We'll either take leave of them now, without
waiting--or we'll come back in time, three days before they
start. I'll go abroad with you, if you but say the word; to
Switzerland, the Tyrol, the Italian Alps, to whichever of your
old high places you would like most to see again--those beautiful
ones that used to do you good after Rome and that you so often
told me about."

Where they were, in the conditions that prompted this offer, and
where it might indeed appear ridiculous that, with the stale
London September close at hand, they should content themselves
with remaining, was where the desert of Portland Place looked
blank as it had never looked, and where a drowsy cabman, scanning
the horizon for a fare, could sink to oblivion of the risks of
immobility. But Amerigo was of the odd opinion, day after day,
that their situation couldn't be bettered; and he even went at no
moment through the form of replying that, should their ordeal
strike her as exceeding their patience, any step they might take
would be for her own relief. This was, no doubt, partly because
he stood out so wonderfully, to the end, against admitting, by a
weak word at least, that any element of their existence WAS, or
ever had been, an ordeal; no trap of circumstance, no lapse of
"form," no accident of irritation, had landed him in that
inconsequence. His wife might verily have suggested that he was
consequent--consequent with the admirable appearance he had from
the first so undertaken, and so continued, to present--rather too
rigidly at HER expense; only, as it happened, she was not the
little person to do anything of the sort, and the strange tacit
compact actually in operation between them might have been
founded on an intelligent comparison, a definite collation
positively, of the kinds of patience proper to each. She was
seeing him through--he had engaged to come out at the right end
if she WOULD see him: this understanding, tacitly renewed from
week to week, had fairly received, with the procession of the
weeks, the consecration of time; but it scarce needed to be
insisted on that she was seeing him on HIS terms, not all on
hers, or that, in other words, she must allow him his unexplained
and uncharted, his one practicably workable way. If that way, by
one of the intimate felicities the liability to which was so far
from having even yet completely fallen from him, happened
handsomely to show him as more bored than boring (with advantages
of his own freely to surrender, but none to be persuadedly
indebted to others for,) what did such a false face of the matter
represent but the fact itself that she was pledged? If she had
questioned or challenged or interfered--if she had reserved
herself that right--she wouldn't have been pledged; whereas there
were still, and evidently would be yet a while, long, tense
stretches during which their case might have been hanging, for
every eye, on her possible, her impossible defection. She must
keep it up to the last, mustn't absent herself for three minutes
from her post: only on those lines, assuredly, would she show
herself as with him and not against him.

It was extraordinary how scant a series of signs she had invited
him to make of being, of truly having been at any time, "with"
his wife: that reflection she was not exempt from as they now, in
their suspense, supremely waited--a reflection under the brush of
which she recognised her having had, in respect to him as well,
to "do all," to go the whole way over, to move, indefatigably,
while he stood as fixed in his place as some statue of one of his
forefathers. The meaning of it would seem to be, she reasoned in
sequestered hours, that he HAD a place, and that this was an
attribute somehow indefeasible, unquenchable, which laid upon
others--from the moment they definitely wanted anything of him--
the necessity of taking more of the steps that he could, of
circling round him, of remembering for his benefit the famous
relation of the mountain to Mahomet. It was strange, if one had
gone into it, but such a place as Amerigo's was like something
made for him beforehand by innumerable facts, facts largely of
the sort known as historical, made by ancestors, examples,
traditions, habits; while Maggie's own had come to show simply as
that improvised "post"--a post of the kind spoken of as
advanced--with which she was to have found herself connected in
the fashion of a settler or a trader in a new country; in the
likeness even of some Indian squaw with a papoose on her back and
barbarous bead-work to sell. Maggie's own, in short, would have
been sought in vain in the most rudimentary map of the social
relations as such. The only geography marking it would be
doubtless that of the fundamental passions. The "end" that the
Prince was at all events holding out for was represented to
expectation by his father-in-law's announced departure for
America with Mrs. Verver; just as that prospective event had
originally figured as advising, for discretion, the flight of the
younger couple, to say nothing of the withdrawal of whatever
other importunate company, before the great upheaval of Fawns.
This residence was to be peopled for a month by porters, packers
and hammerers, at whose operations it had become peculiarly
public--public that is for Portland Place--that Charlotte was to
preside in force; operations the quite awful appointed scale and
style of which had at no moment loomed so large to Maggie's mind
as one day when the dear Assinghams swam back into her ken
besprinkled with sawdust and looking as pale as if they had seen
Samson pull down the temple. They had seen at least what she was
not seeing, rich dim things under the impression of which they
had retired; she having eyes at present but for the clock by
which she timed her husband, or for the glass--the image perhaps
would be truer--in which he was reflected to her as HE timed the
pair in the country. The accession of their friends from Cadogan
Place contributed to all their intermissions, at any rate, a
certain effect of resonance; an effect especially marked by the
upshot of a prompt exchange of inquiries between Mrs. Assingham
and the Princess. It was noted, on the occasion of that anxious
lady's last approach to her young friend at Fawns, that her
sympathy had ventured, after much accepted privation, again to
become inquisitive, and it had perhaps never so yielded to that
need as on this question of the present odd "line" of the
distinguished eccentrics.

"You mean to say really that you're going to stick here?" And
then before Maggie could answer: "What on earth will you do with
your evenings?"

Maggie waited a moment--Maggie could still tentatively smile.
"When people learn we're here--and of course the papers will be
full of it!--they'll flock back in their hundreds, from wherever
they are, to catch us. You see you and the Colonel have
yourselves done it. As for our evenings, they won't, I dare say,
be particularly different from anything else that's ours. They
won't be different from our mornings or our afternoons--except
perhaps that you two dears will sometimes help us to get through
them. I've offered to go anywhere," she added; "to take a house
if he will. But THIS--just this and nothing else--is Amerigo's
idea. He gave it yesterday" she went on, "a name that, as, he
said, described and fitted it. So you see"--and the Princess
indulged again in her smile that didn't play, but that only, as
might have been said, worked--"so you see there's a method in our
madness."

It drew Mrs. Assingham's wonder. "And what then is the name?"

"'The reduction to its simplest expression of what we ARE
doing'--that's what he called it. Therefore as we're doing
nothing, we're doing it in the most aggravated way--which is the
way he desires." With which Maggie further said: "Of course I
understand."

"So do I!" her visitor after a moment breathed. "You've had to
vacate the house--that was inevitable. But at least here he
doesn't funk."

Our young woman accepted the expression. "He doesn't funk."

It only, however, half contented Fanny, who thoughtfully raised
her eyebrows. "He's prodigious; but what is there--as you've
'fixed' it--TO dodge? Unless," she pursued, "it's her getting
near him; it's--if you'll pardon my vulgarity--her getting AT
him. That," she suggested, "may count with him."

But it found the Princess prepared. "She can get near him here.
She can get 'at' him. She can come up."

"CAN she?" Fanny Assingham questioned.

"CAN'T she?" Maggie returned.

Their eyes, for a minute, intimately met on it; after which the
elder woman said: "I mean for seeing him alone."

"So do I," said the Princess.

At which Fanny, for her reasons, couldn't help smiling. "Oh, if
it's for THAT he's staying--!"

"He's staying--I've made it out--to take anything that comes or
calls upon him. To take," Maggie went on, "even that." Then she
put it as she had at last put it to herself. "He's staying for
high decency."

"Decency?" Mrs. Assingham gravely echoed.

"Decency. If she SHOULD try--!"

"Well--?" Mrs. Assingham urged.

"Well, I hope--!"

"Hope he'll see her?"

Maggie hesitated, however; she made no direct reply. "It's
useless hoping," she presently said. "She won't. But he ought
to." Her friend's expression of a moment before, which had been
apologised for as vulgar, prolonged its sharpness to her ear--
that of an electric bell under continued pressure. Stated so
simply, what was it but dreadful, truly, that the feasibility of
Charlotte's "getting at" the man who for so long had loved her
should now be in question? Strangest of all things, doubtless,
this care of Maggie's as to what might make for it or make
against it; stranger still her fairly lapsing at moments into a
vague calculation of the conceivability, on her own part, with
her husband, of some direct sounding of the subject. Would it be
too monstrous, her suddenly breaking out to him as in alarm at
the lapse of the weeks: "Wouldn't it really seem that you're
bound in honour to do something for her, privately, before they
go?" Maggie was capable of weighing the risk of this adventure
for her own spirit, capable of sinking to intense little
absences, even while conversing, as now, with the person who had
most of her confidence, during which she followed up the
possibilities. It was true that Mrs. Assingham could at such
times somewhat restore the balance--by not wholly failing to
guess her thought. Her thought, however, just at present, had
more than one face--had a series that it successively presented.
These were indeed the possibilities involved in the adventure of
her concerning herself for the quantity of compensation that Mrs.
Verver might still look to. There was always the possibility that
she WAS, after all, sufficiently to get at him--there was in fact
that of her having again and again done so. Against this stood
nothing but Fanny Assingham's apparent belief in her privation--
more mercilessly imposed, or more hopelessly felt, in the actual
relation of the parties; over and beyond everything that, from
more than three months back, of course, had fostered in the
Princess a like conviction. These assumptions might certainly be
baseless--inasmuch as there were hours and hours of Amerigo's
time that there was no habit, no pretence of his accounting for;
inasmuch too as Charlotte, inevitably, had had more than once, to
the undisguised knowledge of the pair in Portland Place, been
obliged to come up to Eaton Square, whence so many of her
personal possessions were in course of removal. She didn't come
to Portland Place--didn't even come to ask for luncheon on two
separate occasions when it reached the consciousness of the
household there that she was spending the day in London. Maggie
hated, she scorned, to compare hours and appearances, to weigh
the idea of whether there hadn't been moments, during these days,
when an assignation, in easy conditions, a snatched interview, in
an air the season had so cleared of prying eyes, mightn't
perfectly work. But the very reason of this was partly that,
haunted with the vision of the poor woman carrying off with such
bravery as she found to her hand the secret of her not being
appeased, she was conscious of scant room for any alternative
image. The alternative image would have been that the secret
covered up was the secret of appeasement somehow obtained,
somehow extorted and cherished; and the difference between the
two kinds of hiding was too great to permit of a mistake.
Charlotte was hiding neither pride nor joy--she was hiding
humiliation; and here it was that the Princess's passion, so
powerless for vindictive flights, most inveterately bruised its
tenderness against the hard glass of her question.

Behind the glass lurked the WHOLE history of the relation she had
so fairly flattened her nose against it to penetrate--the glass
Mrs. Verver might, at this stage, have been frantically tapping,
from within, by way of supreme, irrepressible entreaty. Maggie
had said to herself complacently, after that last passage with
her stepmother in the garden of Fawns, that there was nothing
left for her to do and that she could thereupon fold her hands.
But why wasn't it still left to push further and, from the point
of view of personal pride, grovel lower?--why wasn't it still
left to offer herself as the bearer of a message reporting to him
their friend's anguish and convincing him of her need?

She could thus have translated Mrs. Verver's tap against the
glass, as I have called it, into fifty forms; could perhaps have
translated it most into the form of a reminder that would pierce
deep. "You don't know what it is to have been loved and broken
with. You haven't been broken with, because in your RELATION what
can there have been, worth speaking of, to break? Ours was
everything a relation could be, filled to the brim with the wine
of consciousness; and if it was to have no meaning, no better
meaning than that such a creature as you could breathe upon it,
at your hour, for blight, why was I myself dealt with all for
deception? why condemned after a couple of short years to find
the golden flame--oh, the golden flame!--a mere handful of black
ashes?" Our young woman so yielded, at moments, to what was
insidious in these foredoomed ingenuities of her pity, that for
minutes together, sometimes, the weight of a new duty seemed to
rest upon her--the duty of speaking before separation should
constitute its chasm, of pleading for some benefit that might be
carried away into exile like the last saved object of price of
the emigre, the jewel wrapped in a piece of old silk and
negotiable some day in the market of misery.

This imagined service to the woman who could no longer help
herself was one of the traps set for Maggie's spirit at every
turn of the road; the click of which, catching and holding the
divine faculty fast, was followed inevitably by a flutter, by a
struggle of wings and even, as we may say, by a scattering of
fine feathers. For they promptly enough felt, these yearnings of
thought and excursions of sympathy, the concussion that couldn't
bring them down--the arrest produced by the so remarkably
distinct figure that, at Fawns, for the previous weeks, was
constantly crossing, in its regular revolution, the further end
of any watched perspective. Whoever knew, or whoever didn't,
whether or to what extent Charlotte, with natural business in
Eaton Square, had shuffled other opportunities under that cloak,
it was all matter for the kind of quiet ponderation the little
man who so kept his wandering way had made his own. It was part
of the very inveteracy of his straw hat and his white waistcoat,
of the trick of his hands in his pockets, of the detachment of
the attention he fixed on his slow steps from behind his secure
pince-nez. The thing that never failed now as an item in the
picture was that gleam of the silken noose, his wife's immaterial
tether, so marked to Maggie's sense during her last month in the
country. Mrs. Verver's straight neck had certainly not slipped
it; nor had the other end of the long cord--oh, quite
conveniently long!--disengaged its smaller loop from the hooked
thumb that, with his fingers closed upon it, her husband kept out
of sight. To have recognised, for all its tenuity, the play of
this gathered lasso might inevitably be to wonder with what magic
it was twisted, to what tension subjected, but could never be to
doubt either of its adequacy to its office or of its perfect
durability. These reminded states for the Princess were in fact
states of renewed gaping. So many things her father knew that she
even yet didn't!

All this, at present, with Mrs. Assingham, passed through her in
quick vibrations. She had expressed, while the revolution of her
thought was incomplete, the idea of what Amerigo "ought," on his
side, in the premises, to be capable of, and then had felt her
companion's answering stare. But she insisted on what she had
meant. "He ought to wish to see her--and I mean in some protected
and independent way, as he used to--in case of her being herself
able to manage it. That," said Maggie with the courage of her
conviction, "he ought to be ready, he ought to be happy, he ought
to feel himself sworn--little as it is for the end of such a
history!--to take from her. It's as if he wished to get off
without taking anything."

Mrs. Assingham deferentially mused. "But for what purpose is it
your idea that they should again so intimately meet?"

"For any purpose they like. That's THEIR affair."

Fanny Assingham sharply laughed, then irrepressibly fell back to
her constant position. "You're splendid--perfectly splendid." To
which, as the Princess, shaking an impatient head, wouldn't have
it again at all, she subjoined: "Or if you're not it's because
you're so sure. I mean sure of HIM."

"Ah, I'm exactly NOT sure of him. If I were sure of him I
shouldn't doubt--!" But Maggie cast about her.

"Doubt what?" Fanny pressed as she waited.

"Well, that he must feel how much less than she he pays--and how
that ought to keep her present to him."

This, in its turn, after an instant, Mrs. Assingham could meet
with a smile. "Trust him, my dear, to keep her present! But trust
him also to keep himself absent. Leave him his own way."

"I'll leave him everything," said Maggie. "Only--you know it's my
nature--I THINK."

"It's your nature to think too much," Fanny Assingham a trifle
coarsely risked.

This but quickened, however, in the Princess the act she
reprobated. "That may be. But if I hadn't thought--!"

"You wouldn't, you mean, have been where you are?"

"Yes, because they, on their side, thought of everything BUT
that. They thought of everything but that I might think."

"Or even," her friend too superficially concurred, "that your
father might!"

As to this, at all events, Maggie discriminated. "No, that
wouldn't have prevented them; for they knew that his first care
would be not to make me do so. As it is," Maggie added, "that has
had to become his last."

Fanny Assingham took it in deeper--for what it immediately made
her give out louder. "HE'S splendid then." She sounded it almost
aggressively; it was what she was reduced to--she had positively
to place it.

"Ah, that as much as you please!"

Maggie said this and left it, but the tone of it had the next
moment determined in her friend a fresh reaction. "You think,
both of you, so abysmally and yet so quietly. But it's what will
have saved you."

"Oh," Maggie returned, "it's what--from the moment they
discovered we could think at all--will have saved THEM. For
they're the ones who are saved," she went on. "We're the ones who
are lost."

"Lost--?"

"Lost to each other--father and I" And then as her friend
appeared to demur, "Oh yes," Maggie quite lucidly declared, "lost
to each other much more, really, than Amerigo and Charlotte are;
since for them it's just, it's right, it's deserved, while for us
it's only sad and strange and not caused by our fault. But I
don't know," she went on, "why I talk about myself, for it's on
father it really comes. I let him go," said Maggie.

"You let him, but you don't make him."

"I take it from him," she answered.

"But what else can you do?"

"I take it from him," the Princess repeated. "I do what I knew
from the first I SHOULD do. I get off by giving him up."

"But if he gives you?" Mrs. Assingham presumed to object.
"Doesn't it moreover then," she asked, "complete the very purpose
with which he married--that of making you and leaving you more
free?"

Maggie looked at her long. "Yes--I help him to do that."

Mrs. Assingham hesitated, but at last her bravery flared. "Why
not call it then frankly his complete success?"

"Well," said Maggie, "that's all that's left me to do."

"It's a success," her friend ingeniously developed, "with which
you've simply not interfered." And as if to show that she spoke
without levity Mrs. Assingham went further. "He has made it a
success for THEM--!"

"Ah, there you are!" Maggie responsively mused. "Yes," she said
the next moment, "that's why Amerigo stays."

"Let alone it's why Charlotte goes." that Mrs. Assingham, and
emboldened, smiled "So he knows--?"

But Maggie hung back. "Amerigo--?" After which, however, she
blushed--to her companion's recognition.

"Your father. He knows what YOU know? I mean," Fanny faltered--
"well, how much does he know?" Maggie's silence and Maggie's eyes
had in fact arrested the push of the question--which, for a
decent consistency, she couldn't yet quite abandon. "What I
should rather say is does he know how much?" She found it still
awkward. "How much, I mean, they did. How far"--she touched it
up--"they went."

Maggie had waited, but only with a question. "Do you think he
does?"

"Know at least something? Oh, about him I can't think. He's
beyond me," said Fanny Assingham.

"Then do you yourself know?"

"How much--?"

"How much."

"How far--?"

"How far."

Fanny had appeared to wish to make sure, but there was something
she remembered--remembered in time and even with a smile. "I've
told you before that I know absolutely nothing."

"Well--that's what _I_ know," said the Princess.

Her friend again hesitated. "Then nobody knows--? I mean," Mrs.
Assingham explained, "how much your father does."

Oh, Maggie showed that she understood. "Nobody."

"Not--a little--Charlotte?"

"A little?" the Princess echoed. "To know anything would be, for
her, to know enough."

"And she doesn't know anything?"

"If she did," Maggie answered, "Amerigo would."

"And that's just it--that he doesn't?"

"That's just it," said the Princess profoundly.

On which Mrs. Assingham reflected. "Then how is Charlotte so
held?"

"Just by that."

"By her ignorance?"

"By her ignorance." Fanny wondered. "A torment--?"

"A torment," said Maggie with tears in her eyes.

Her companion a moment watched them. But the Prince then--?"

"How is HE held?" Maggie asked.

"How is HE held?"

"Oh, I can't tell you that!" And the Princess again broke off.

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.